Being in ones 20′s and single. Make that 30′s. Make that 40′s.

by Jeffrey Polet on October 31, 2011 · 63 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Articles,Culture, High & Low

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In 2010, for the first time in our nation’s history, men constituted a minority of the nation’s workforce. Colleges typically boast a 60-40 female-male ratio. Women make up an ever-larger percentage of corporate executives and other high-paying high-profile positions. It is no longer an oddity when a woman runs for the nation’s so-called highest office.

Are men on the decline, the victims of the increasing authority and prominence of women? So we see in an increasing number of studies and essays. Women are ascendant, men descendant. If evidence were needed for this claim one would need only consult the pages of The Atlantic, that once-proud organ of American letters and essays, which has increasingly been dominated by women talking about women, or perhaps talking about men. One doesn’t see in its pages men talking about men, or – more audaciously – men talking about women. The essays range from the more social sciency sorts of essays, such as Hanna Rosin semi-gleefully announcing the end of men, to the narcissistic ramblings of Sandra Tsing Loh, which are so shamelessly self-revelatory they’d likely make Rousseau blush.

Not that the essays are typically accompanied by self-awareness, or any sense of irony. The quest for emancipation has led mainly to confusion and a lot of feeling sorry for oneself.  But it takes a gifted writer to turn this self-pity into an art form, worthy of the magazine that has published Emerson and Lowell and Whitman and Thoreau and Twain and Stowe and Dickinson and the James brothers and … well, you get the idea.

Kate Bolick’s recent cover story doesn’t exactly put her in a league with those august writers. The essay is too poorly organized and too poorly researched to be the serious piece of scholarship it sometimes aspires to be, and by pieces both too self-conscious and not self-conscious enough to be an essay that can manage any sense of universality. Neither does it try, for the intended audience is clearly women like her, in the middle way and toward the end of their child-bearing years, with a vague sense that something has gone wrong, but without the critical apparatus to figure out what, exactly, that might be. And since men and children both are largely regarded as accessories to a stylish and independent upper-middle class life, she’s unlikely to find any answers by exploring a genuine alterity. Her life consists mostly, it seems, of talking to women like her who all seem intent on mutual affirmation in the name of independence. But for all that, it’s an essay worth reading.

Bolick indicates early that she intends to give us a memoir that merely describes without seeking to gain any clarity in the process. The first paragraph contains nine personal pronouns. Not to be outdone, the second manages ten. The pace is maintained throughout the essay. Bolick’s sensibilities are formed of two principles which offer no concession to competing ideas or experiences: “a post-Boomer ideology that values emotional fulfillment above all else” and the related idea that the summum bonum is personal autonomy.

This emphasis on personal autonomy extends across relationships and all moral claims. All Bolick’s moral reasoning typically involves thinking through choices in language too thin to bear the weight of the choices themselves. It may be the case that some women “want their own biological child” and those that do may or may not find a man useful in this context. Indeed, these are “great times” for women because of all the “non-traditional” ways of bringing children into one’s life. So one chooses between a more traditional route of having children and a newfound one, but here we find that reality has a way of intruding itself upon our choices. As she ages, Bolick finds that the pool of men who are willing to settle down with her and have children is getting shallower all the time, so even if she chose to pursue the traditional route, it is increasingly unavailable to her. In a classic moment of amor fati she writes:

“But what can I do about that? Sure, my stance here could be read as a feint, or even self-deception. By blithely deeming biology a non-issue, I’m conveniently removing myself from arguably the most significant decision a woman has to make. But that is if you regard motherhood as the defining feature of womanhood – and I happen not to.”

“I happen not to.” When personal autonomy cuts itself off from the enframing possibilities of tradition and the wholeness of relationships grounded in the complementary otherness of man and woman, moral choices have no greater evocative force than “I happen not to.” Why Bolick believes her musings her might have value to anyone else is beyond me. They certainly don’t bring clarity to her own situation, because precisely at the moment she finds herself pulled away from her own inclinations by the reality of her condition, she returns to them with a shrug rather than attempting the difficult working of asking whether the feminist movement, as embodied in her own mother, has perhaps sold her a bill of goods. (For the record, one shouldn’t blame only feminism here, for it is only a species of the larger emphasis on emancipation.)

So while celebrating the gains of the feminist movement (“good for everyone”) she simultaneously wonders why men and marriage have had a hard time of it, never asking for a moment if the two things might somehow be related to one another, except for the vague realization that perhaps the greatest beneficiaries of female sexual exploration are sexually charged males with no moral compass.

Here again, even while she reflects on the piggishness of men who are more interested in sex than commitment, she doesn’t see how her own choices and transparent moral calculus have contributed to the problem. She laments the novelist who, “after a month [!] of hanging out” decided he wanted to have sex with other women but also wanted to “keep having sex anyhow.” Well, no one can accuse either of them overvaluing chastity. One is struck time after time when reading the story about the disjunction between intemperate sexual behavior and sexual fulfillment. One of the great ironies of the essay is that, for a person who values personal fulfillment above all else, she has no idea how to go about achieving it, and the more she makes it a goal of her actions, the more elusive it becomes. And in that we see the piece is really emblematic of our culture at large.

She makes this even clearer when she engages in conversation with a group of young women about their sexual lives. The sad stories are of young women who have been well-schooled in comparative shopping and sexual technique, but have found none of it “particularly sensual or exciting … fueled less by lust than by a vague sense of social conformity” (lust and conformity being apparently the only two options for engaging sex). The author describes these young woman as having “grown up in a jungle” where they’ve never had a satisfying relationship and are frightened by the prospect they may never have one. Yet for all that, the author never once questions the sexual paradigm itself.

In inveighing against “the tyranny of two” the author ends up with the hell of herself and little means of escape. She tries to celebrate “the rise of the aunt” by noting, with no small hint of desperation, that “there are many ways to love in this world.” Perhaps those ways might include settling for someone much lower on the desirability scale. Perhaps it might involve polyamory or “ethical nonmonogamy.” Perhaps it might involve imitating primitive tribes who allow women in the cloak of night to have as much sex with as many partners as they like, or none at all, and distribute parental responsibilities across the clan. Or perhaps it might involve the formation of secular cloisters wherein women provide each other with all the intimacy they need and sexual desire is sublimated into creative pursuits. Or perhaps it might involve the endorsement of “alternative family arrangements” that signify the next step in the evolution of the species.

But what it cannot involve is a cessation of the pursuit of the holy grails of personal fulfillment and autonomy. It cannot involve reflecting on the possibility that men and women are particularly suited to join with one another in a permanent and monogamous relationship, directed toward their children, and thus learn to live selflessly with one another, putting aside their own projects and desires in loving sacrifice to someone else. Ms. Bolick cannot entertain the possibility that her “aching loneliness” and sense of unhappiness result from, and are not incidental to, her blithe acceptance of her mother’s second wave feminism with its insistence that marriage was a form of captivity.

Christianity insists on the paradoxical nature of our existences. In losing our lives, we find it. In seeking the good for others, we find it for ourselves. In dying we live. In obedience we find freedom. Else we are trapped in our solitude, like Ms. Bolick, and while on occasion we may intuit things have gone drastically wrong, we lack the spiritual resources which may lead us back on the path to our true humanity. So the world of personal autonomy abandons the poor soul to itself, and now its victim surveys the rubble of her life, with the “too many ex-boyfriends to count” who could provide no deep or sustaining human relationship, the “grim-seeming options” that are the apogee of personal choice, the sense that “something was missing” but no cultivated imagination to identify what it might be and the concomitant inability to “envision my life any differently,” the feckless moral judgments that she tries to compensate for with vague assertions about progress and evolution, and the pervasive ambivalence grounded in the fear that perhaps she has chosen unwisely.

At least she can compensate for all this with an expense account and a six-figure income. She’s not the hardest hit victim of this experiment in de-institutionalizing human love and sex. What of the black women and the poor women she draws our attention to and then abandons, just as surely as the men who impregnated them? What of the children of these couplings? What of the young college student who is promised a four-year long sexual playground and emerges with no capacity for intimacy and a boatload of memories and God-knows-what else he or she will be carrying into the marital bed? And then this student graduates, having never taken advantage of the single best pool of potential mates he or she is ever likely to happen across, and are now in an entry-level position at minimum pay while at the same time trying to pay off $24,000 in college loans? These young people, whose elders and professors are busy telling that there is no greater good than personal fulfillment and personal autonomy, and now find themselves in their 20′s with grim economic prospects and even grimmer relational ones? To whom, or to what, shall they turn? Is it any wonder that personal libertinism is being accompanied by political quackery that promises to make those problems go away?

Ms. Bolick’s essay is a sad reminder that modern selves have paid a high price in estrangement for their “emancipation.” Estranged from themselves, from others, and from a set of spiritual resources that places them in the larger context of reality that we cannot control but can only serve. And in such service human beings find their purpose and fulfillment. One imagine Ms. Bolick in her Amsterdam cloister twenty years from now, looking out at the cold drizzle falling on the canals, neither wiser nor happier, only sadder. Such is the fate of the “I.”

 

{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar JS123 October 31, 2011 at 1:56 pm

It all seems to come from the denial of human nature. A human life has a form that is set by nature: childhood and education, adulthood, work, marriage, and child raising, old age. You could say that the meaning of life is to do a good job at each part of a human life. Although FPR writers have been ambivalent about Darwin, the rediscovery of human nature which comes out of Darwinian psychology is a great leap in the right direction. Also, is the view that values have Darwinian survival value: those who follow Bolick’s values are doomed to go extinct.

avatar Jordan Smith October 31, 2011 at 8:42 pm

Jeffrey:

I was with you until your second to last paragraph. Which really destroyed undermined your entire piece. For someone who defers to a Christian perspective you seem to be missing the most important aspect of the Christian message. That of redemption.

Your essay is a curse on all those who have gone astray. It suggests that they have destroyed the possibility of wholeness in their lives. It is true there is no going back. And maybe bad choices bring regrets. But my understanding of Jesus revolves around redemption and forgiveness. And beyond that restoration of our place in His family, and the restoration of our inheritance at His table.

I have known many who have made mistakes and have feared they could never get back what they gave away. God surprised them. And they now live in covenant relationships with others, fully restored, and with healthier marriages than many others I know of.

There are no lives lived without mistakes. There never have been, except one. And that one life lived, died and resurrected makes all things possible for all men and women. Praise be to Jesus our Saviour. Amen.

avatar Brandon November 1, 2011 at 9:43 am

To claim that the feminist movement has been “good for everyone” is nothing but an overwhelming excercise in female solipsism. In fact, most of Bolick’s article is as well, despite its pretensions to serious intellectual discourse.

avatar Jack Walker November 1, 2011 at 10:06 am

Sigh, the plight of the white, middle class male and their “I’m no longer the majority” problems.

avatar Anymouse November 1, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Jack Walker, you are an ideological liberal with no substance.

avatar JonF November 1, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Re: Also, is the view that values have Darwinian survival value: those who follow Bolick’s values are doomed to go extinct.

Careful: humans are not beasts and “extinction” doesn’t mean for us what it means for dodo birds, because humans have culture– and culture matters more than genes do.
Plato, St Paul, Elizabeth I, George Washington, Beethoven and Mother Teresa all left no genetic progeny, but were they evolutionary failures in the context of humanity? I think not– not at all. And if having a “passle of brats” (I quote Scarlett O’Hara) is the goal of human life then those religious traditions, East and West, which have praised celibacy and instituted formal monasticism are just as deluded as this silly, self-befuddled woman writing in the Atlantic. And I really don’t think that’s right.

avatar Peter B. Nelson November 2, 2011 at 9:58 am

Great piece, Mr. Polet!

For a mediocre writer Bolick sure has garnered a lot of commentary, and yours is the best so far. Thank you.

On Halloween I mentioned to my Mother, with some pride, that her five-year old Granddaughter wants to live at home forever and marry and have a family here and never move out.

To which she replied, in mock horror, “Oh, no, you don’t want to encourage that, you want her to go out into the world and be emancipated.”; as blithely as though her granddaughter had sworn never to get a driver’s license.

I considered giving her a lecture on the relationship between liberty and limits and place, but face it, that whole generation just isn’t amenable.

avatar JS123 November 2, 2011 at 12:33 pm

JonF, but cultures can die out because of their values. Just look at the Shakers; any account of their extinction has to take into consideration that their celibacy was a or the major cause of it. My bet is that the liberal values of what’s-her-name will have the same effect on her like that the Shakers’ values had on them.

avatar Allen Fuller November 2, 2011 at 9:10 pm

JS123, the problem with this idea that liberalism will die out due to lack of reproduction is that liberalism is not a species or a physical creature. It is a “meme” or thought, that like a virus can be “caught” by other hosts. It reproduces not through biological means but through culture and institutions and the other mechanisms in which ideas propagate.

Liberalism does have a negative effect on the biological reproduction of those that adopt it. But that does not prevent it from infecting new minds, the minds of the children of those parents, most likely not liberal, who still have children. This is why if you really want to fight liberalism, you must attack it at the point where it takes hold. We must not give up the schools and universities as a lost cause, for example. Or at least, if we care about our own children, we must send them to schools where liberalism is not dominant, or else inoculate them well enough against this virus that they are able to go through unscathed. This is not an easy job, but it must be done.

At the level of an entire civilization, yes, liberalism is causing us to age and die off quite quickly. Our historical strength as a nation, which is based in our goodness, which comes from strong families, strong civic life stemming from shared values, and, dare I say it, from Christianity, is being lost. Do not take comfort in any idea that liberals are reproducing at a lower rate than conservatives.

avatar Karen November 2, 2011 at 10:18 pm

So, if autonomy — me, making my own decisions — is bad, what replaces it? Who gets to make decisions for me?

avatar Jeffrey Polet November 3, 2011 at 6:10 am

The issue here, to use Rawlsian language, is the priority of the right to the good; that is to say, to elevate the capacity to choose over that which is chosen, about which nothing can be said. An Aristotelian accounting of human action emphasizes any decision’s implicit or explicit telos.

avatar jason taylor November 4, 2011 at 11:14 am

JonF November 1, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Re: Also, is the view that values have Darwinian survival value: those who follow Bolick’s values are doomed to go extinct.

Careful: humans are not beasts and “extinction” doesn’t mean for us what it means for dodo birds, because humans have culture– and culture matters more than genes do.
Plato, St Paul, Elizabeth I, George Washington, Beethoven and Mother Teresa all left no genetic progeny, but were they evolutionary failures in the context of humanity? I think not– not at all. And if having a “passle of brats” (I quote Scarlett O’Hara) is the goal of human life then those religious traditions, East and West, which have praised celibacy and instituted formal monasticism are just as deluded as this silly, self-befuddled woman writing in the Atlantic. And I really don’t think that’s right.
——————————————————————

No, monasticism is not a delusion. It is humane and treats people as people. No matter how you cut it some people will not be able to marry or even to copulate illegitimately. An appeal to Social Darwinism is cruel and treats people as surplus population. Involuntary celebate’s suffer. They do not suffer compared to peasants in Africa, or whatever but they do suffer. Monasticism reminds people that there is dignity in virginity as well, provides a meaning for life for those who engage in it and sets an example for the rest.
Humans are not animals; they don’t just reproduce their genes. They produce their creation and monasticism gives recognition to that fact. Monasticism rightly understood should not call marriage impure because married people engage in sex. It should however be a reminder that there is a place for those who cannot find a mate. Humans should not be expendable.

avatar Karen November 4, 2011 at 10:59 pm

You still didn’t answer my question: who gets to make decisions in your ideal world?

avatar Anymouse November 5, 2011 at 2:17 am

We get to make our decisions, but our choices must be limited by our debt to our ancestors.

avatar Cecelia November 5, 2011 at 3:02 am

Are men on the decline, the victims of the increasing authority and prominence of women?

well – were women on decline when men had the authority and prominence?

avatar Anymouse November 5, 2011 at 11:29 am

No, because the genders followed their roles.

avatar JonF November 5, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Re: JonF, but cultures can die out because of their values. Just look at the Shakers…

I don’t consider the Shakers a “culture”. At most they were a sub-sub-sub-culture.
On the broader scale I can’t imagine liberalism dying out, if only because political conservatives are liberal too. Who now believes in government by monarchy, and a society organied by hereditary aristocracy? Anyone think we should we should have one and only one permitted church? Restore slavery and revoke women’s suffrage? The culture we call “liberalism” has become the general default, and in those places where it is not (like the Middle East) we discern modern dysfunction and bad old things that we hope will go away.
Does anyone really want the 17th century to come back?

And I really wish folks would look at the real world numbers. A century from, now there will still be more Europeans (to name one culture that is tut-tutted for having too few children), and certainly more people speaking European languages and practicing a European religion and using European science and technology, than there were when Victoria took the throne.

avatar Anymouse November 6, 2011 at 2:26 am

“Who now believes in government by monarchy, and a society organied by hereditary aristocracy? Anyone think we should we should have one and only one permitted church?”
I could seriously sign on with those ideals.

“And I really wish folks would look at the real world numbers. A century from, now there will still be more Europeans (to name one culture that is tut-tutted for having too few children), and certainly more people speaking European languages and practicing a European religion and using European science and technology, than there were when Victoria took the throne.”
But there will be many who are not.

avatar Karen November 6, 2011 at 8:20 am

Anymouse, how do we pay a debt to dead people? Also, are you willing to be a landless peasant woman in your noble utopia? My strong suspicion is that you imagine yourself being a nobleman and can’t imagine how anyone of your particular wonderfulness could ever live the wretched life of a peasant.

avatar Charlotte November 6, 2011 at 10:38 am

Thus ends my second flirtation in six months with the Front Porch Republic. Since it’s now abundantly clear what is meant by that term, I don’t think I’ll be back. In the Front Porch Republic, the men are on the front porch, content to be just a-rockin’ and a-talkin’. The women are barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen, slaving away to serve up toothsome treats for the men, which the men take without thanks, as merely their due, for they are men. Women get the scraps left over, and are glad to get them. Ah yes, the good old days. No thank you!

avatar Abbey November 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm

So, what if I agree with this? What should a single, female, college graduate do between now and being married? Other than wait. Or go to grad school.

Sincerely curious.

avatar John Haas November 6, 2011 at 6:32 pm

There’s some seriously disturbed comments going on in this thread, but I don’t think any blog should be judged it’s most erratic, anonymous comments. That doesn’t mean Charlotte should stay, either. I wouldn’t blame her for taking off. But, just sayin’.

avatar Anymouse November 6, 2011 at 6:43 pm

“Also, are you willing to be a landless peasant woman in your noble utopia?”
I would indeed be willing to accept that. We cannot choose the cross we must carry, and I will not pretend myself to be more deserving than a poor illiterate women. We must accept what we are given and do what is right.

avatar Anymouse November 6, 2011 at 6:46 pm

“So, what if I agree with this? What should a single, female, college graduate do between now and being married? Other than wait. Or go to grad school.”
One could work part time before they get married.

avatar John Haas November 7, 2011 at 12:27 am

Or get in the kitchen. They could probably use some help. And I’m hungry, dammit, woman!

avatar Eric B. November 10, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Abbey, I think the point is that by the time a woman has left her family and any local community that a lot of options are gone. I think family and the local community should be the institutions that provide a dignified and productive place for young women. Of course, the family or local community may not be willing to make a place for its young people even if the young people were willing to stay, but I think the central answer to your question has to lie in rebuilding real local communities (and economies), starting with the family. So what should the 20-something with a college degree do? Live in a way that would give your daughter better options than you face now. Recognize that your college degree and everything it represents is probably pretty worthless — that’s what I make of my “prestigious” degree, anyway — and begin the much more challenging work of actually learning things useful to yourself and your visible neighbors. Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands, so that your daily life will be an example to outsiders, and so that you won’t be dependent on anybody. Consider your passions, and then bring those passions down to earth and learn to conform them to reality. As a single person, especially if you might like to marry some day, I wouldn’t recommend living too isolated a lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean you have to live in a big city, and it certainly doesn’t mean you should go to grad school. If your own family doesn’t offer a place for you that you can find dignity and purpose in, then I might look for another family that could offer you an opportunity, whether it be a family farm or a family workshop… Don’t let your not-knowing lead you further and deeper into the life of consumerism, serving the global economy; instead, take time to test your passions: if you want to make llama-wool yarn, make llama-wool yarn; if you want to deliver babies, go apprentice with a midwife. Anything like that will surely be more valuable than grad school.

avatar Deanna November 11, 2011 at 2:04 am

I have nothing against higher education for women; I am a college graduate. However, I just finished reading Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry, and this article and discussion reminded me of Hannah’s recognition (after the fact) that education lead her children away from home. “But it was true. After they were gone, I was mourning over them to Nathan. I said, “I just wanted them to have a better chance than I had.” Nathan said, “Don’t complain about the chance you had,” . . . Was I sorry that I had known my parents and Grandmam and Ora Finley and the Catletts and the Feltners, and that I had married Virgil and come to live in Port William, and that I had lived on after Virgil’s death to marry Nathan and come to our place to raise our family and live among the Coulters and the rest of the membership? Well, that was the chance I had.” And this quote from G.K. Chesterton provided some more food for thought: “I would give a woman not more rights, but more privileges. Instead of sending her to seek such freedom as notoriously prevails in banks and factories, I would design specially a house in which she can be free.”

avatar Karen November 13, 2011 at 9:37 am

It’s not freedom if she’s confined to the house, catering to the whims of her husband. Chesterton couldn’t see women as anything other than cowardly, dimwitted, weaklings.

avatar Anymouse November 13, 2011 at 8:10 pm

“Chesterton couldn’t see women as anything other than cowardly, dimwitted, weaklings.”
Such idiocy should not be dignified with a response, so I will not.

avatar Centaur255 November 13, 2011 at 9:09 pm

@Karen: I think the point of Chesterton’s comment is lost when we see the “working world” simply as a means of freedom, and “the home” simply as a prison cell. As one who has been trodden on in the corporate world, may I be so bold as to say that there are thousands of women who have sought this “freedom” and found that they are being trampled daily in the rat-race to the top?

If we are honest in how we view the career path, it’s a dangerous game: for men, we say, “suck it up”: you are going to get stepped on. You are going to be pushed around. You are going to lose sometimes, and it is going to hurt. Deal with it. When a woman is introduced into that environment, where she is also competing, guess what happens: she gets trampled (by men and women alike). She gets stepped on. She gets hurt.

Instead of seeking this, Chesterton is turns to what he knows: the tradition where men leave home to fight in *that* world (where pain is commonplace), shielding his wife from the pain present in that world. Is it prison? No — there is safety there, and freedom to explore, create, commit, and delight. I by no means stand opposed to women having careers, but I applaud those who have chosen to remain at home, making the world a better place where they are.

avatar Anymouse November 13, 2011 at 11:07 pm

And we shouldn’t forget that in the past both men and women have worked from home. A women writer can certainly do her job anywhere.

avatar Valli Genevieve November 15, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Wow, I have to say I am with Charlotte – this discussion is nothing more than high minded words trying to masquerade a yearning for the good old days when men ruled the world.

Which is unfortunate. A real discussion about the way the sexual revolution has not served either sex is desperately needed. A discussion on why men are disappearing from college is worth a serious conversation. This is idle daydreams by the reactionary. The way forward is not back.

avatar Anymouse November 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm

“A real discussion about the way the sexual revolution has not served either sex is desperately needed. A discussion on why men are disappearing from college is worth a serious conversation.”
I believe we have been having one. Do you honestly think that we can separate those problems from modernity and feminism? I am not a believer in that path. Every nation on the earth that has pursued modernization has suffered serious problems in the realm of gender and male achievement, even supposedly “traditional” places like Japan.

If we have a society where women are encouraged to choose college and career over motherhood, we will have a society where sexual dysfunction is encouraged and male achievement in markedly reduced. I am afraid that is an iron clad law.

Let us look at the issue of birthrates. I know of only two modern or western countries that have avoided low birthrates: Greenland and the Faroe Islands. There are no other countries in the Northern latitudes of the world that have at least two children per mother. And both of those countries have only maintained this family life by geographic limitations that prevent modernization from going all the way.

avatar Abbey November 15, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Eric B.,
Thank you for such a dignified response. I will be sharing it with friends.

avatar ahunt November 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm

“A real discussion about the way the sexual revolution has not served either sex is desperately needed. A discussion on why men are disappearing from college is worth a serious conversation.”

If I recall correctly, the statistic is not that fewer men are going to college…more folks than ever are pursuing higher ed. The disparity is due to the fact that women constitute more of the increase.

As to the first point…it seems to me that the standard riff…women need to change their behaviors so men will change theirs… is obnoxious pandering to male privilege. And in my experience, insisting that women are responsible for male sexuality has the highly undesirable consequence of fostering contempt for men among young women. Not the goal.

I believe that any discussion of restraint and responsibility which is predicated on double standards of gender behaviors is doomed out of the harbour. That ship has sailed.

Unless the envisioned conversation requires the obligations of mutual service, chastity and self control AS the fundamental premise…we’ll be talking to the wind.

avatar Jeffrey Polet November 15, 2011 at 11:54 pm

I agree with ahunt’s final paragraph. I think that’s exactly right. I’m not at all convinced I would want to use Chesterton as a model for relations between the sexes.

That said, the purpose of the essay was not to lament the so-called decline of men. I think that’s a side issue. The point of the essay was to examine the consequences of making personal autonomy and fulfillment the highest goods in life. One inevitably ends up in a secularized convent with the highest good a room of one’s own. It’s a recipe for isolation. Count me out.

What can be done? Change the culture.

avatar Anymouse November 16, 2011 at 1:10 am

“What can be done? Change the culture.”
I agree.
And by a willingness to pay attention to material culture we can affect improvements that could not otherwise be obtained.

avatar andrew November 16, 2011 at 7:19 pm

the irony is that in their fullest sense, autonomy and fulfillment are among the highest goods in life. true liberty, true freedom, being the redeemed selves we were always meant to be, loving and being loved in the presence of the beatific vision — these constitute true autonomy and fulfillment.

c. s. lewis would say that our desires are too weak — we are like children playing with mudpies when we’ve been invited to a holiday at sea…. i can imagine lewis advising ms. bolick: pursue happiness first and you’ll never find it. pursue holiness first and you’ll find it and happiness thrown in.

avatar andrew November 18, 2011 at 1:14 am

two side notes:

betty friedan optimistically wrote in 1997 that male metrosexuals were a sign that our culture was moving beyond the “child-man.” perhaps i’m mistaken, but i’m pretty sure the “child-man” problem is now worse than ever.

betty friedan wrote in 1963 about frustrated women asking “is this all?” nearly 50 years later, after getting everything they’ve ever wanted, after coming to a place where they wonder in all seriousness if men are necessary, liberated women are still asking the same question. the foolishness is so tragic that it is almost comical.

avatar Karen November 18, 2011 at 11:10 am

Will one of you please write a very detailed statement of what rights women should have and how we would be permitted to exercise them? My belief is that traditionalists want women to be walking lobotomized uteri, popping out infants at frequent intervals and devoting ourselves to laundry, shiny floors, alphabetized spice racks and dying before we get wrinkles so that we can be replaced by a younger, more attractive model. Our minds are completely unnecessary and should be kept as small as possible, until science develops a way for women to cook and clean without actually needed a cerebral cortex. You believe that wives are required but not nearly as interesting as hunting dogs, and that the best a man can be expected to do is endure having a woman around for her slave labor.

avatar Anymouse November 18, 2011 at 5:18 pm

That statement is nothing more than a smear for rhetorical purposes. However, I will dignify it with a response.

I do not think we need a detailed list of rights. They should have all the rights given to any human being. The right to choose marriage or celibacy. The right to choose the work of their choice. Those are just a few of the rights women have and should have.

Those are also others. Such as the right not to be coerced into the military, the right not to be killed within the womb. The right to have one’s husband support you without coercing you into an unfulfilling and meaningless job. The right to be free from no-fault divorce. Those are also rights, even though you may disagree with them.

We will see who is more “liberal”.

avatar ahunt November 18, 2011 at 5:19 pm

I dunno, Karen.

Front Porchers do seem to want to return to a simpler, less mobile time, when communities were made up of extended networks of family and friends assisting and caring for one another, but I’m pretty sure they recognize the sheer folly of attempting to accomplish this by legally restricting the rights of women.

It is more of a persuasion thing…

avatar andrew November 18, 2011 at 8:06 pm

karen,

belief in caricatures only leads to foolishness and an impoverished public discourse. if we must speak of rights, ms. bolick is pathetically confused because (1) women have the right to sell “a bill of goods” and (2) women have the right to buy “a bill of goods.” i use the phrase as polet uses it in the essay above.

it should be clear to most people of lucid mind and good will that the unfettered emancipation metanarrative is a lie. there’s plenty of empirical evidence in favour of this conclusion. even so, we all have the right to believe in lies, even if it makes us confused and willing to advertise our confusion on the front page of the atlantic.

importantly, the language of rights itself is “too thin” for ms. bolick’s problems, to use polet’s phrase. if she really wants to become less confused, she might consider the language of virtue ethics. she might also consider submitting her autonomous self to what is objectively true, good, and beautiful.

of course, none of these comments means exonerating men, who remain rebellious and confused in their own way, with equally terrible consequences.

avatar ahunt November 18, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Parsing here, Andrew…but I’m guessing the issue is the implicit assumption that the “change” everyone here is dancing around rests solely on the will and choices of women.

So I think Karen’s question is fair…and might be rephrased as…in the context of equality of rights and responsibilities, what are Front Porchers looking for women to do for “the cause,” and why?

avatar Karen November 18, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Excellent summary ahunt. Despite my angry tone, I am myself a product of a small town and sympathetic to a significant amount of traditionalism. (I love classical music, literature, and wish handicrafts were more respected, to name just three things.) I have, however, read Kirk and Berry and ran away as fast as I could at the picture they drew of ideal women.

avatar Anymouse November 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm

“of course, none of these comments means exonerating men, who remain rebellious and confused in their own way, with equally terrible consequences.”
Well put.

avatar ahunt November 19, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Yeah…here’s the thing…proscribed gender roles, hierarchy in marital relationships, legal and social restrictions on women to “hopefully” ENCOURAGE men to virtuous conduct…are rapidly going the way of the Dodo…and rightfully so…

Men and women are responsible for their own behavior. Full Stop. Any discussion of gender relations that does not begin with this premise is so much hooey.

avatar Anymouse November 19, 2011 at 9:53 pm

True, but neither I nor anyone else was blaming women for the dysfunctions of men.

Personally I would blame Technological Modernity for the present day faults of both sexes.

avatar ahunt November 19, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Anymouse…if you think I am giving up running potable hot and cold water…you have another think coming!

avatar Anymouse November 19, 2011 at 10:26 pm

I find that a rather unthinking and selfish view.

We can see the society that is the fruit of the modern urban middle class. It is not pretty.

We will need to make some hard choices, and perhaps settle for a different standard of material life.

avatar Karen November 19, 2011 at 11:00 pm

anymouse, no. If spiritual goods require a return to deprivation, starvation and disease, then we’ll do without spiritual goods, thankyouverymuch. I’ll even go so far as to state that if spiritual goods requires giving up my iPod, I’ll stick with the iPod and Facebook page. (Have you considered the hypocrisy of arguing in favor of a reduction in material standards of living on a blog, by the way?) ahunt and I are interested in how to keep the best of our traditions and harmonize them with the good stuff from the present.

avatar ahunt November 20, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Heh Karen…

Kill the television, but the universe will pry my iPod classic containing the music of three centuries from my cold, dead fingers.

Mahalia Jackson is on as I write.

Seriously…once the boys flew the coop, Dad got his HD Big Screen…sports, you understand.

avatar Karen November 20, 2011 at 3:07 pm

ahunt, I would love to share playlists. I have made a personal mission trying to kill Genius by purchasing Palestrina, Hank Williams, and Alice Cooper in one session. Also in my list of Gadgets Worth Everything They Want For Them is my Barnes & Noble Nook Color, loaded with an entire library and web browser and Pandora.

My gadgets, my indoor plumbing and major appliances make life more comfortable for me than any Emperors had it before 1940 or so. I see no reason to preserve any custom or tradition that requires anyone to be miserable, or even very uncomfortable. It is only a lack of imagination that would make a person think that we can’t have Shakespeare and solid marriages along with our iPods, Nooks, and flat screens.

avatar Karen November 20, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Also, Mahalia Jackson alone justifies owning an iPod.

avatar Deanna November 20, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Kate Bolick’s article is a complaint against the current situation. She believes that women have made great gains socially, economically, politically, and sexually, and that women need no longer be defined by marriage and motherhood. However, she is clearly not happy. She has accomplished all that she believes makes for meaningful womanhood, and yet she is now asking if that is all there is. And now that she is starting to think about marriage and children (although she still will not admit that they are important), she finds that there are no good men. As she says, “…as women have climbed higher, men have been falling behind.” However, if Ms. Bolick prizes her own liberation and autonomy (social, economic, political, and sexual) above all else, she can not complain when men do the same thing. But if marriage and children are important, then Ms. Bolick may need to consider why “as women are climbing higher, man have been falling behind.” And honesty would require that she consider the possibility of a relationship between one and the other, and that the past could have some answer for the present.

avatar ahunt November 20, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Hmmm…given that the vast majority of college educated women do, in fact, marry…seems to me that Bolick is the outlier here.

But let us have the discussion.

avatar Anymouse November 20, 2011 at 8:16 pm

But they often marry after thirty. I know many unmarried women in their thirties who are attending college.

avatar ahunt November 20, 2011 at 9:47 pm

…and so?

avatar Deanna November 20, 2011 at 11:29 pm

If Ms. Bolick is an “outlier,” then her article would not have had an audience, and hence would not have been published.

If Ms. Bolick is happy with her life, then why is she even lamenting the status of men? She believes that marriage and children are not important for meaningful womanhood, and so, for her, the status of men should be a non-issue. But by writing this article, she makes the status of men an issue, and then refuses to consider why men are as they are. So what was her purpose?

As I see it, Ms. Bolick’s thoughts reflect the current attitudes of women (maybe a few, maybe a lot) who have found liberation and autonomy but still feel that something is missing. But instead of asking whether her choices may have some effect on her current lack of happiness, she wants to put the blame on “the men.” Whereas her mother complained that men were demeaning and abusive, she complains that men are lazy and lustful.

If Ms. Bolick or any woman wants to unravel the mystery of her unhappiness, she must be open to consider all possibilities. Otherwise, she needs to stop complaining and get on with her life.

avatar ahunt November 20, 2011 at 11:54 pm
avatar Deanna November 21, 2011 at 1:01 am

@ ahunt

I think that you misunderstand my point. I agree that marriage is not dead. I am not arguing that women should not attend college or work outside the home, or that either are incompatible with marriage and children.

Although she won’t admit it to herself, Ms. Bolick wants to marry and have children, and is unsatisfied because there is a lack of “good” men. So what can she do now? Well, instead of considering the possibility that her own choices have consequences, she will make the case that “marriage is dead.” She has to convince herself that she will be entirely fulfilled with female companionship and adoption. But I am not convinced that she is convinced of this.

The definition of marriage is a hot social and political topic right now, and Ms. Bolick is not the only person who wants to redefine or dispose of marriage. I am a bit confused as to why you are interested in this topic if you believe Ms. Bolick’s thoughts are not representative of a substantial number of women.

avatar ahunt November 21, 2011 at 1:12 am

IOW…Bolick is an annoying navel gazer…

avatar ahunt November 21, 2011 at 1:19 am

Sorry…Bolick got on my nerves quick:

“Today I am 39, with too many ex-boyfriends to count.”

Please…put down the Cosmo, grow up and realize that a rehabilitated George Clooney is not in your future.

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